Review: ZEN Studios ZEN Pinball: Rollercoaster
On July 25, 2008, iLounge published iPhone Gems: Action Puzzlers, Table + Pinball Games, a feature article looking at eight assorted games developed for the iPhone OS. This review focuses on only one title from the collection; you can read the full article, with screenshots of all of the games together, through the link above.
We’re huge video game pinball fans, and having played many of the best titles released for game consoles over the past 15 years, we feel comfortable saying that certain developers have taken purely digital pinball games far past the limitations of the wood-cabineted machines they were based upon. Others, such as Random5 and the iTiltPinball game we’ve reviewed separately, do worse than even archiac pinball tables. The majority, like ZEN Studios with its ZEN Pinball: Rollercoaster, fall somewhere in the middle.
Unlike games that feature multiple machines or multiple screens of play within one machine, ZEN Pinball: Rollercoaster tries to emulate a single machine to a surprising degree of detail. You can play the game without messing at all with the camera, but if you press a button to unlock it, turning the iPhone or iPod touch results in dramatic shifts of your vantage point, allowing you to see the cabinet’s exterior sides, or tilt the machine forward for a better view of the table’s front. The effect is undeniably cool, and different from what we’ve previously seen in pinball games.
Unfortunately, the unlocked camera is intended for viewing fun rather than to aid in the gameplay, and ZEN Studios doesn’t do many of the smart things that we’ve liked in past pinball simulations: there’s no quick close-up on the ball as it moves to a distant part of the table, no temporary transparency to aid your view as it passes under or around static objects, and no complete transition into sub-screens accessed by dropping the ball into traps scattered around the floor. Games for the NEC TurboGrafx-16 and Sega Genesis mastered some of these tricks—and more—a long time ago, radically improving gameplay in the process, but ZEN Pinball: Rollercoaster seems content to let you enjoy a simple simulation of a nice-looking table. You might like that, but we found the fun factor limited due to the vantage point; hopefully a sequel will offer more than just a cool demonstration of how nice a pinball table can look in 3-D on the iPhone.